YouTube channel owners: Is your content directed to children?

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Under COPPA, how do I know if my channel is “directed to children”? Since the FTC and New York Attorney General announced their September 2019 settlement with YouTube for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule, we’ve heard that question from channel owners – sometimes called content creators. If you’re a channel owner who shares content on user-generated platforms like YouTube, read on for FTC staff guidance about the applicability of the COPPA Rule and how those covered by the Rule can comply with its requirements.

The FTC action against YouTube and Google

The lawsuit against YouTube and Google alleged that the companies illegally collected personal information from children, in violation of COPPA. According to the complaint, the companies collected that information from viewers of child-directed YouTube channels in the form of persistent identifiers that track users across the Internet, but didn’t notify parents and get their consent. To settle the case, YouTube and Google agreed to create a mechanism so that channel owners can designate when the videos they upload to YouTube are – to use the words of COPPA – “directed to children.” The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that both YouTube and channel owners are complying with the law.

A COPPA recap

That provision of the settlement has raised questions among content creators about how to determine if what they upload to YouTube or other platforms is “directed to children.” The answer requires a brief summary of some key COPPA provisions. Passed by Congress in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of children under 13. COPPA’s foundational principle is one that most people can agree on: Parents – not kids, companies, platforms, or content creators – should be in control when it comes to information collected from children online.

The FTC enforces the law through the COPPA Rule. In general, COPPA requires operators of commercial websites and online services that are directed to children (more about that in a minute) to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before they collect personal information from kids under 13.

The COPPA Rule defines “personal information” to include obvious things like a child’s first and last name or home address, but that’s not all. Under COPPA, personal information also covers what are called persistent identifiers – behind-the-scenes code that recognizes a user over time and across different sites or online services. That could be an IP address or a cookie when it’s used to serve targeted ads. Keep in mind that an operator also might be collecting personal information through an open comment field on its site or service that allows a user under 13 to make personal information publicly available. For example, think of a comment like this on a child-directed site: My name is Mary Jones from Springfield. I love this video!

How COPPA applies to channel owners

So how does COPPA apply to channel owners who upload their content to YouTube or another third-party platform? COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app. If a channel owner uploads content to a platform like YouTube, the channel might meet the definition of a “website or online service” covered by COPPA, depending on the nature of the content and the information collected. If the content is directed to children and if the channel owner, or someone on its behalf (for example, an ad network), collects personal information from viewers of that content (for example, through a persistent identifier that tracks a user to serve interest-based ads), the channel is covered by COPPA. Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements. For information on how to comply with COPPA, please visit the FTC’s COPPA page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

How channel owners can determine if their content is directed to children

Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children, but we can offer some guidance. To be clear, your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. However, if your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA and have to honor the Rule’s requirements.

The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed:

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content,
  • the age of models,
  • the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
  • language or other characteristics of the site,
  • whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
  • competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.

The determination of whether content is child-directed will be clearer in some contexts than in others, but we can share some general rules of thumb. First, unless you’re affirmatively targeting kids, there are many subject matter categories where you don’t have to worry about COPPA. For example, if your videos are about traditionally adult activities like employment, finances, politics, home ownership, home improvement, or travel, you’re probably not covered unless your content is geared toward kids. The same would be true for videos aimed at high school or college students. On the other hand, if your content includes traditional children’s pastimes or activities, it may be child-directed. For example, the FTC recently determined that an online dress-up game was child-directed.

Second, just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone.

Third, the complaint in the YouTube case offers some examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Want to see the FTC’s analysis in context? Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint.

Finally, if you’ve applied the factors listed in the COPPA Rule and still wonder if your content is “directed to children,” it might help to consider how others view your content and content similar to yours. Has your channel been reviewed on sites that evaluate content for kids? Is your channel – or channels like yours – mentioned in blogs for parents of young children or in media articles about child-directed content? Have you surveyed your users or is there other empirical evidence about the age of your audience?

What are the possible penalties for violating COPPA?

The Rule allows for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation, but the FTC considers a number of factors in determining the appropriate amount, including a company’s financial condition and the impact a penalty could have on its ability to stay in business. While Google and YouTube paid $170 million, in another COPPA case settled this year, the operator paid a total civil penalty of $35,000.

Isn’t the FTC taking another look at the COPPA Rule?

Yes, the FTC is currently evaluating the Rule in light of rapid changes in technology. If you would like to comment on the effectiveness of the COPPA Rule and whether changes are needed, the FTC has extended the comment deadline to December 9, 2019.

Where can channel owners go for more information?

A look at the factors in the COPPA Rule will help most channel owners determine if their content is directed to children. If you’re still unsure about how COPPA applies to you, consider contacting an attorney or consulting with one of the COPPA Safe Harbor programs – self-regulatory groups that offer guidance on how operators can comply with the law. Visit the FTC’s website for a list of currently approved Safe Harbor organizations. For more resources, visit the FTC’s Children’s Privacy page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

 
 
 

Comments

I'm happy to see changes and specifications are being made about this COPPA rule.
Other things that need clarifying are such things as the 42k fine, can the fine really be applied to those overseas? Do you have any protection when it comes to not purposefully labelling your content, such as accounts that are pre-Google, hacked accounts, abandoned or forgotten accounts or accounts created by children or creators no longer with us?
I have non monetised accounts that I can no longer access, which are Vlogs and cosplay based, typically aimed at teenagers and adults but I can't access the accounts to make changes. Bots may see them differently. The emails attached to them have been deleted as I was a teenager when accounts were created and I'm now in my 30''s. I hope that there will be some forgiveness for accounts that have shown to not have been logged in to for a long time, instead having dead channels removed to make it easier for the FTC and YouTube to better identify offenders that are current.
As a woman in a part time job, any fines that could be applied to me here in the UK I will never be able to pay. It will make me and my family homeless. With a sister who is special needs. I do hope you consider each persons financial standing in this case. As some people are every day folk living on the breadline as it is with accounts they have forgotten to have even existed. Who know nothing about COPPA and the FTC.
You are willing to listen and I am grateful for that, so please consider not just the current creators but those who haven't had contact with their accounts for years through different reasons. Consider the small accounts who are not monetised and not making money, not collecting data on children by any means.

Foreign-based websites and online services must comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the United States, or if they knowingly collect personal information from children in the U.S. The law’s definition of “operator” includes foreign-based websites and online services that are involved in commerce in the United States or its territories. As a related matter, U.S.-based sites and services that collect information from foreign children also are subject to COPPA. See COPPA FAQS B.7. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/complying-coppa-frequently-asked-questions

What about toys that are not directly directed towards children? Figurines? Doll customizing? Cartoons that are directed towards children but that may not only appeal to children such as My Little Pony, which has many adult and teen fans? How will those cases be handled? How can a content creator be responsible for who views their content? Youtube is automatically setting some videos to kids only. This is way too aggressive and it still seems too broad. Kids don't have a set of things that appeal to them. Adults can like kid stuff too. Kids often watch videos with adult content. Kids often lie on YouTube's sign up about their age. Please release more information about this.

good point....

Em..i think the kids can see the video because i didn't add blood or something bad .. but if you want you can choose if is good for kids

What are people going to about this though?

But have you checked the ad you View to kids. Including, the language you speak, speak kids language. Also check if music Is for kids, that can’t be maybe: Rock. Have great wishes and I hope your video fixes. ;D

I think I speak for every Lego content creator out there on YouTube when I say these next few things. Can you please address the Lego industry in all this? Not all Lego content is directed towards kids and it’s a brand is for people from 3-99. What if you may you vulgar language in videos or just direct your content towards teens and adults but kids see it? Many channels on YouTube are run by adults and teens who want older people to see their videos but kids could still see them and be ok. This is scaring the entire Lego community on YouTube ranging from people who do Lego News, Lego Oriented Podcasts, Lego Set Reviews, Lego Speed Builds, Lego Shopping Trips/ Showcasing what Lego you have bought, and Lego Animations. This is an untouched topic except for the fact it can be considered a “toy”. Which the term “toy” doesn’t fit as collectors and adults and even kids use them to display and look at, and not necessarily play with it. Please I beg you all to touch this subject and end the unrest. People don’t make enough money from Lego content to pay $42,530 fines. Please help the Lego community on YouTube with these major and potentially life changing rules.

I think this is Awesome you are protecting chidren from potential Predators ❤

that is not at all what is happening. there are still predators out there and this is just gonna make people’s lives more difficult, especially the people who use youtube as a career. if they make videos for kids they are going to loose a lot of features of a regular channel and a lot of their profit. this COPPA thing is stupid and not helping anything

I absolutely agree. As a mom of 4 I monitor what my kids watch and what sites they go to. It is the parents responsibility to make sure their children aren't going on sites or channels they shouldnt be. Not to mention as you said many adults and teens still love dolls, collectables, games crafting, art etc.that can be seen as for kids. In my option I think this is just another way for those in power to try and pull the control of people finding alternative ways to generate income that leaves them out. Its ridiculous.

I don’t think it’s a good idea. Being a YouTuber is a real job to some people and some minor Channels might come out of business because of it. If you monitor your child’s actions, you should only let them watch YouTube Kids, which is a separate app for kids under thirteen and has similar rules to what COPPA and the FTC are bringing in. I don’t think anybody who has a good understanding of YouTube’s algorithm and policy’s should agree.

I absolutely agree with whom ever you are. Youtube to me is a REAL job and I am absolutely scared that my channel could become nothing. My videos are "kid friendly" but they are not indented for children at all. Also I am just a starting channel and i cant afford loosing it now. Technically this isn't a job yet it is just volunteering. People do see this as a job to feed families and do what people with a "normal job" would do. There for it is not fair that people's jobs are at risk because parents allow their children to go onto regular youtube instead of kids.

Art is nay just kids teens wach it too!

This honestly doesn't clarify much if anything at all. This really is saying if you're playing something like Skylanders, Zelda, Sonic, LEGO, Spyro, etc. Then it's for kids cause nothing supposedly adult (At least according to this criteria) is happening in those games. Even when your content is directed towards older audiences and you're doing something like a Speedrun, a game review, an online match and the like,

What I reading is if I was playing an online match of something like Pokemon, a game that people of all ages play. Because it's Pokemon a game that is tailored to kids then it's just for kids. Regardless of what my audience is.

What about channels that provide independent commentary and use animation or clips of things considered for kids? Are they problematic under COPPA?

Sir I am having a old account of YouTube in my fully not working phone . And I created and posted videos in 2018 , and now I can't access that channel . And also now I can't do any coppa setting their . So what will I do?

that is the sort of thing i was worried about too.

what if i upload content that is not directed to kids, but towards teens and even adults? i can set the setting so that my channel is not directed at kids, and coppa will see it, but the thing is, "will i be fined?"

i dont mind not getting any revenue from the videos i produced, as long as im not whacked by that heavy fine, im okay

I don't know but you know. What thinking me.

Almost every video on YouTube contradicts with one to all of the guidelines listed on this page., we need simple rules that all of us can follow.

Simple rules to follow would be great for a YouTuber like me so I can keep uploading content for all my subs.
It's fun to be a YouTuber but all these non-simple rules may lead to me deleting my channel. I very much agree that the rules need to be simple.

The complaint in the YouTube case offers some examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

What about channels that have mixed stuff? I make unboxing videos of toys, i have game videos(ranging from mature games to family friendly games), , travelling vblogs and pets. My channel is not monetized, i make no money from my videos, i have never applied for monetisation.
I have never stated anywhere that i aim my content for children, and i do not, my audience is general audience, and youtubes stats show that most people who watch my videos are between the age of 18-34
I speak foreign languege in my videos as i am not the citizen of usa or any other english speaking country, but i add subtitles in english into my videos.
Am i safe? Do i need to make my channel made for children as i do not aim my videos for kids? It is not made for children it is made for all people, and mostly toy collectors watch my unbox videos.
I am very scared that youtube has a bot that can just go and cnahne your video for you if it deems it made for kids, and then you can sue me for thousands of dollars even though i do not even live in usa. I do not have that kind of money, on some months i can just barely buy food for myself and pay my rent. That would kill me.

Just start marking every single video 18+

Very nice

I dont get money for my videos its just for fun will i get fine? Should I just delete everything?

Would be nice, but it's not a simple world. I think adjudication of cases has to be based on principles, rather than arbitrary precedents. To your point, one of those principles has to be "due process": You can't fine people for breaking a rule that is misleading, vague or contradictory.

Why aren't you guys considering to add mixed content. Mixed content would solve this problem and it would make things easier. Why must you make our fight to have you listen even harder? Mixed content is an alternative that I feel would please everyone. Because even though there can be content that appeals to kids, they can appeal to adults as well. You all just don't understand and I personally feel that you are out of touch. I will continue my fight as is everyone else in the hopes that we can convince you to listen. Sure you are listening but it's not enough. It's never enough. We want you to know that we want you guys to leave content creators alone. We aren't the reason why YouTube got in this predicament, YouTube and it's CEO did on their own with their machine-learning systems. We end up paying the price for what they did and now you decide to punish us. That's inexcusable.

Please consider adding a mixed content option because that would not only solve this whole mess but it can favor everyone and we won't have to be worrying and dreading and what not. I only pray that you will consider.

It's YouTube who chose not to put in a "generalized audience" option. Go blame them.

That wouldn't solve anything. It's been stated that if it's mix audience, you still have to put in the kids catagory. Because it's still technically kids friendly. But older audiences will get your video suggestion. YouTube isn't to blame, their following the law. As they should. Though the changes are questionable. It's not their choice.

FTC has a mixed content option. The problem is that Youtube isn't including that with us. If you're upset about lacking a mixed content option, th proper people to complain to would be Youtube.

Mixed content is acknowledged by the FTC, under the term 'general audience.' It is an option, but if children access it you cannot be aware of it.

I think this was addressed above. "Second, just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone."
The bottom line there is who your target audience is. If you are family-friendly and target adults, it seems to me that you wouldn't likely fall under COPPA at all. Most adults won't watch someone play with toys for hours on end (ie child-directed content), but many kids are interested in adult-directed content.

Mixed content wont help. This would still mean if any part of your audience is kids then the proper actions to prevent data collection must be taken. Mixed content is basically the same thing as kids content. The only thing that would solve this problem is for youtube to have two very hard lined sites with one being all content uploaded to "Youtube" being data collecting inventory, and then a "Youtube Kids" that clearly does not collect data. Kids content may be allowed on regular "Youtube" but any adult sharing the platform with a child would be consenting to the data being collected.

Youtube needs to do a better job of controlling their content distribution. But Youtube clearly wants the childrens data, and is apparently going far out of the way to try to keep the kids content together with all adult content that collects data because they damn well know how much money they make from targeted ads on those videos. There should be two platforms and the registration process for an adult account should have some form of verification system.

They just announced that I you make mixed content, your free to put it on Not for Kids.

Vague definitions and a wonky Google/YouTube algorithm in response to the YouTube/FTC settlement can lead to false positives that impact content creators negatively in most cases slapping them with heavy fines that far outweigh the money they make from posting their content on sites like YouTube. One offense is a $42,000 USD fine. given how little content creators make with subscriptions and ad revenue, this could lead to the essential shutdown of their channel.

Please clarify exactly what the terms of " activities appealing to children means!!! It's kinda vague

"Kinda"... the understatement of the century. Lol

Dont go through with this just change the add regulation on youtube dont remove kids content Yes this is a problem but there's more hatred than ruining so many beloved youtubers With such vague rules you put half of the platform at risk of your rules THINK ABOUT THIS PLEASE ,FTC

Activities that children would most likely do let’s say for example, if a child or kid wants to listen by reacting to the music. They would listen to music appropriate for children or kids unlike music that is not for kids.

Talking about video games or animals, or saying the words "cool" according to official guidelines. Also LITERALLY any videogames, regardless of rating, according to the current writing of the law.

It means that children are appealed to certain activities, like playing, being goofy, etc.

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